We live in an increasingly crazy sports world. If you’ve been paying attention, you know this.
Monday brought another example of the wackiness when the NBA fined Charlotte owner Michael Jordan $100,000 for talking about an NBA player and the lockout, and Serena Williams was fined $2,000 for verbal abuse of a chair umpire.
So the NBA — which, to be fair, warned everyone in the league not to talk about these topics — thought Jordan’s transgressions were $98,000 worse than Open officials thought of Williams’. But here’s what Jordan said last month in an interview with an Australian newspaper:
“I can’t say so much . . . but I know the owners are not going to move off what we feel is very necessary for us to get a deal in place where we can co-exist as partners. We need a lot of financial support throughout the league as well as revenue sharing to keep this business afloat.”
“We have stars like [Andrew] Bogut who are entitled to certain type of demands. But for us to be profitable in small markets, we have to be able to win ballgames and build a better basketball team. . . .”
“I love Bogut’s game. . . . He is a star to be reckoned with [and] will be a star for some time.”
That’s a hundred grand’s worth of betrayal? Yikes. All I glean from that is “Blah blah blah Bogut is a star.” The league should have given Jordan half the money back for saying something nice about another player.
Williams’ meltdown Sunday during the women’s final of the U.S. Open was nowhere near the level of the one in 2009, when she threatened to jam a ball down a linesman’s throat, but her comments to chair umpire Eva Asderaki were petty at best and intimidating at worst. Among her bon mots: “Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time here? Do you have it out for me? That’s totally not cool.” She also called the Asderaki “unattractive inside.”
Williams could have been fined up to $175,000 and suspended from a Grand Slam event as part of her probation from the 2009 incident. Instead, she got a slap on the wrist and Asderaki and other officials got the message: We’re not going to protect you from abuse. That’s ironic considering another Williams’ comment: “We’re in America last time I checked.”
So what we have here are two people who are among the faces of their sport, fined for verbiage. Neither is going to struggle to come up with the money; Jordan drops that much at the golf course, and Williams’ outfits for the Open probably cost more than her penalty.
But that’s not the point. One fine seems excessive, given Jordan’s innocuous comments, and the other seems light, given past history and the fact that Williams couldn’t stop herself, continued the verbal abuse through the match, and then during the news conference that followed, said she couldn’t remember what she said but that she’d watch it on YouTube. She certainly provided a sour end to the feel-good story of the Open.
Maybe we need a Court of Common Sense, an uber-body that could review and alter fines. After all, the governing bodies issuing these penalties have a vested interest in these people. In Commissioner David Stern’s case, it’s to control all news of the lockout. In the case of the U.S. Open, it seems focused on protecting one of its few marquee American stars. How can leagues and governing bodies be objective when they have a financial stake in the punishments?
Of course, we’d need to find unbiased representatives for our Court of Common Sense. And given the state of sports today, that might prove harder than it seems.